Delancey Estates residents rebuffed egg producers Glenn and Mike Wallington at a community consultation on June 18 for a proposed new barn across Highway 2 from their neighbourhood.
“(The plan for a new barn) is great. It’s great for Hay River,” said resident Karen Hordal at the meeting at the Community Hall. “But not another one in my backyard.”
Delancey Estates homeowners are most concerned with the smell a second chicken barn in the area would entail, having already had to deal with that of the existing facility for years.
The Wallingtons’ plan for a new barn includes state-of-the-art air filtration systems and better equipment for waste management, which they say will reduce the smell outside to practically nothing.
They also maintain the current odour issues are not caused by the existing barn itself, but by residents using chicken manure in their own gardens. A few attendees, however, were not convinced.
“There’s a smell and it’s foul,” said Brad Hordal. “If it’s not you guys, we need to figure out what is causing it because it’s worse this year than ever.”
Glenn Wallington and his son Mike partnered up four years ago to create Choice North Farm, one of only a few egg producers in the NWT, which are currently all located in the same barn in Hay River. The Wallingtons argued that, not only would building their own facility be cheaper in the long run than continuing to pay rent, it was the plan from the very beginning.
“It was our long-term goal all along,” said Mike. “It will make it that much easier for us to modernize, diversify and try new ideas.”
The father-and-son team, joined at the meeting by Glenn’s other son Kevin Wallington, the force behind the Polar Egg brand and grading station that opened last year, claimed that the GNWT Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI) had encouraged them to move into their own barn as soon as was feasible, citing both economic and biological advantages.
“They stressed when we (went into business) that they wanted us to build a new barn as soon as possible,” Glenn told The Hub on June 19.
The primary biological reason for a new barn would be less chance of the whole flock – currently 118,000 birds – being wiped out in one outbreak of disease. Right now, if one bird contracted something highly transmittable, the whole egg industry in the NWT would come to a stop for six months, the time it would take to start a whole new flock from scratch.
Beyond biological issues, Mike explained a new barn would help diversify the industry and increase capital investment, something ITI would like to see, as well.
But according to John Colford, ITI’s director of investment and economic analysis, there is no policy on the books that would encourage producers to break off into their own barns.
“The fact that they’re all in the same barn isn’t offensive to this government at all,” he told The Hub, adding that, while ITI certainly agrees there would be advantages in having a second facility, the Wallingtons “are not being compelled, as it’s not a regulation.”
Colford explained having multiple egg-producing facilities was part of the vision for the industry in the NWT set out in the last few years, but the vision should not be confused with policy.
“We have great producers and a great product,” he said. “If they can make a business case, then great. We wouldn’t object if everyone else was on board, but there are so many other tiers and factors at play in the decision making.”
As for the land in question, Kevin Wallington argued in the presentation to Delancey Estates residents that it is one of only a few sites between Hay River and Enterprise that would be suitable for agricultural development. It is still Commissioner’s land, controlled by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), but lies within municipal boundaries. This means that, if the proposal is accepted, the Town of Hay River would apply to lease the land from MACA and could then lease it to Choice North Farm.
“It’s a lot easier to govern when it’s two levels of government dealing with each other than when it’s the GNWT dealing directly with industry,” Kevin explained to The Hub.
The June 18 presentation was split between an explanation of the upgrades the Wallingtons would include in a new barn that would go a long way to mitigating the smell and ecological footprint of the facility, and the economic impact a new barn would have on the town. The preliminary price tag on the building sits at $3 million, with the Wallingtons committed to spend as much of it locally as they can.
On June 19, Glenn explained the operating budget of the existing barn is somewhere in the range of $3.5 million a year, and while much of that is spent buying and transporting feed from the South, Choice North Farm does endeavour to buy as much locally as possible.
Mike Wallington implored the residents at the consultation to look at the industry in a positive light in terms if increased development and job creation.
However, Delancey Estates residents – at least those present at the meeting – were not keen to compound what they view as a previous mistake.
“The (existing) chicken barn was a problem from the beginning,” said Arthur Barnes, a Delancey Estates resident at the meeting. “Why duplicate this? To position a poultry operation in a residential area is bad business. Put it somewhere where it can stand for 200 years, far away from everyone, and residents will support it.”
— Sarah Ladik